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Per Capita Education Spending: How Does Somerville Compare?

Somerville has lowest per capita spending on education out of the 25 cities and towns used in the comparison. Note that per capita spending is not the same as per pupil spending.

In the recent budget process, Somerville put an emphasis on school spending.

But how much does Somerville spend on education for each person in town—in financial terms, its per capita education spending?

The Pioneer Institute, a Massachusetts public policy research organization, recently released a spreadsheet tool to accompany its new handbook, "Guide to Sound Fiscal Management for Municipalities." The spreadsheet tool allows anyone to compare how much a city or town spends on various services, and how much the city or town spends per capita.

Patch used the tool to compare 25 cities and towns in the Somerville area on per capita education spending, with the Pioneer Institute using figures from fiscal years 2009 through 2011 obtained from the state Department of Revenue's Division of Local Services.

Somerville had the lowest per capita spending on education out of the 25 cities and towns used in the comparison.

Note that per capita education spending is not the same as per pupil education spending. The former counts every person in town, while the latter only counts students in the school system.

Do these figures seem right to you? Is there a reason why Somerville's per capita education spending would be lower than these other communities? You can review the figures in the table below, and tell us what you think of the results in the comments section at the bottom of this article.

You can also download the Pioneer Institute's spreadsheet tool yourself and create your own comparisons. 

Per Capita Education Spending By City/Town

The data below were obtained from the Mass DOR Division of Local Services General Fund Expenditure Worksheets. The spending figures presented below are based on the general funds spent by a municipality on education. General funds cover only a portion of a pupil's education cost, according to the Pioneer Institute, and that portion varies widely among the state's cities and towns. Cities and towns are listed in alphabetical order.

 City/Town              FY09
FY10
FY11 State Median 1,296
1,300 1,251
Andover 1,777 1,794 1,850 Arlington 979 985 740 Belmont 1,452 1,393 1,218 Burlington 1,661 1,699 1,772 Cambridge 991 975 1,020 Chelmsford 1,295 1,301 1,359 Lexington 2,131 2,131 2,168 Lynnfield 1,696 1,659 1,687 Malden 893 907 828 Medford 792 778 669 Melrose 1,038 1,011 814 Middleton 1,476 1,564 1,570 North Andover 1,308 1,322 1,318 North Reading 1,393 1,606 1,600 Reading 1,556 1,491 1,484 Saugus 895 948 978 Somerville 611 621 538 Stoneham 1,033 1,050 1,009 Tewksbury 1,228 1,276 1,274 Wakefield 1,081 1,075 1,105 Waltham 997 1,000 1,007 Watertown 968 994 852 Wilmington 1,667 1,592 1,643 Winchester 1,492 1,485 1,569 Woburn 1,221 1,166 1,224
Matt C August 28, 2012 at 12:53 PM
So we know what we are spending - but what are we getting out of it? How do our students do in terms of achievement? How are their testing results and graduation rates? Just because the dollar amount is low does not necessarily mean we are doing a disservice to our students. I will say I am surprised that we are at half the median rate.
Jonah Petri August 28, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Man, "what are we getting out of it" is such a tricky question! If graduation rates are the metric by which we judge success, won't schools just lower graduation standards until everyone graduates? If we judge by test scores, won't schools merely teach how to pass standardized tests? I think your question is excellent, but it begs a further one: what are we *looking* to get from our schools?
Lucas Friedlaender August 28, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Pretty remarkable that Somerville can provide the quality it does at half the median expenditure. I'm guessing the number goes to show we have a lot of young professionals earning incomes in Somerville. Since the city doesn't charge income tax, the state does, I am guessing we are being short changed by the state when it comes to local aid. Much to chew on here.
Diana Tatz August 28, 2012 at 01:45 PM
What is your point in telling us "per capita" spending? "Per student" spending is far more telling. I believe Somerville rates quite high in this area.
Daniel DeMaina (Editor) August 28, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Hi Diana, I put this article together really just as a comparison between how different municipal budgets breakdown. I previously wrote an article that included per pupil expenditures: http://somerville.patch.com/articles/somerville-teacher-salaries-how-do-they-compare
Matt C August 28, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Great Catch! I was thinking that it was per student rather than per capita. We currently spend $16,219 per student which is significantly more than most of our neighbors. What this article is actually saying is we don't have as many children as our neighbors and/or we send our children to private schools more frequently.
Somerville Home Owner August 28, 2012 at 03:25 PM
I agree. Per captia spending doesn't say anything useful. Somerville has few children as a percentage of the population. So the per capita spending is low because you spreading the cost over many people that don't have children in the school system. In many other towns, many (majority?) of the households have children in the system. So the total cost is higher and divided among a smaller population.
Steve S August 28, 2012 at 04:20 PM
The first sentence was chosen for maximum impact ("Somerville has lowest per capita spending on education out of the 25 cities and towns") but minimum value. Yes, you clarify things during the article, but it still seems intentionally misleading. Per-student spending across the state: http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/state_report/ppx.aspx Our $16.1K/year puts us slightly behind Lexington and a bit more than most of our neighbors (Arlington=$13K, Medford=$13K, Winchester=$12K), except for Cambridge which is a bit of an outlier. Obviously, our per-capita expenditure is low because we have a large population with a relatively small number of students. Winchester has 1/4 the population (~20K vs ~80K), but nearly the same number of kids in their schools as we do (4300 vs 4700). Somerville schools lost 1400 students from 2000-2008 (http://somerville.patch.com/articles/enrollment-in-somerville-schools-declines-dramatically-over-last-decade). Has this trend reversed in the last 4 years? People leave the system for many reasons, some of which have to do with school perception. Some of it might be charter schools. Another big factor for many neighbors is lack of affordable housing, particularly single family home stock.
Joe Beckmann August 28, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Somerville has lost nearly 50% of its enrollment ratio from the 1950's - the high school was built for twice the number now enrolled, for just one example, and we still have three empty schools (Powderhouse, Cummings, and either E. Somerville or Edgerly, depending on when). That's why the per capita spending is down, since the number of kids is way down. And that is also why it is critical for EVERYONE to be involved in education, since the ratio of parents to the overall adult population is very, very low. Beyond that a per capita rate says, as others have implied, virtually nothing. Particularly when the explanation is simple demographics. My advice - to journalists - is to look at the overall data: Somerville is older, more single than married, and with a much higher ratio of one or two adults per unit than ever in its history. This makes it prime for marketing, and much, much easier to afford quality education for those who remain.
Daniel DeMaina (Editor) August 28, 2012 at 06:00 PM
I hear what you're saying Steve. Thanks for the constructive criticism and the thoughtful comments.
Paula Woolley August 28, 2012 at 07:16 PM
One question I have is whether other cities and towns include their school buildings' upkeep in their schools spending? I believe Somerville moved that to the city side of the ledger a number of years ago (that is, I believe the DPW budget includes upkeep for the buildings).
cp kostos August 28, 2012 at 09:50 PM
It seems to be a trend. Young working professionals move to somerville for the social scene, which Somerville seems to think is more important than education. If and when they have children, they up and move to a suburban towns such as Melrose, Wakefield, Winchester, Arlington, or Stoneham to avoid the very social scene that attracted them to Somerville to begin with, such as bars, cafes, restaurants, parades,art festivals,. For some reason, the city politicians seem to think these businesses are more important than a stable family environment that once was Somerville's appeal. They've also realized that children don't vote, So why waste time and money on appealing to families?
Matt C August 29, 2012 at 01:42 AM
I am trying to see how Somerville which spends more per student (not per resident) then Melrose, Wakefield, Winchester, Arlington, or Stoneham does not value education. If you look at the programs the city offers to families it makes Somerville a great place to raise a family.
kevin thomas crowley August 30, 2012 at 02:31 PM
seems to me cp kostos got it right. our city's development policies are designed to encourge short term residents. take maxwells green for instance. hundreds of apartments for rent at the modest price of two grand to 4 grand! what fool is gonna pay an average of 3 grand a month for rent for a long period of time? families need not apply is the policy. the tragedy of maxwells green is not what it is, but what it could have been: a new family oriented neighborhood in our city.
Matt C August 30, 2012 at 02:53 PM
I would have preferred it be a condos as well but they are bringing in a much needed flux of residents with spending money to the neighborhood. They have added a large number of "affordable opportunity" units and they restored a blighted area of the city to a place people want to live. My hope is that his development can help bring some life and vitality to Magoun Sq. which if you walk through it is rotting with more for rent signs then actual business.

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